Tomasa, Thomas Doubter?

by The Rev’d Lisa Fortuna, M.D.

My grandmother, Tomasa, a devout Catholic all of her life would often say to me—you know I
was clearly named after St. Thomas. “You need to show me things”, she would say. “I am not
always going to believe something just because someone tells me so, not even the priest or the
president of the United States.”

My grandmother, was raised and born in Puerto Rico, on a colonized island, in extreme poverty, a
place where there has been historically and presently great human injustices…including economic
exploitation and massive sterilization of women –she was always feisty and willing to ask
questions and to be brave in doing so. She knew you could not bank on promises. She was one of
12 children—6 siblings died in childhood due to hunger and illness.

She was brave, courageous about coming to the US mainland at the age of 22, all alone to come
and see what economic opportunities and life she could forge for herself and her family. She shared
with me that she had doubts, but faith always led her to persevere, and her faith continuously
deepened throughout her life.

So, I grew to respect St. Thomas quite a bit, my abuelitas (grandmother’s) patron saint, because
my abuelita was feisty, doubtful yet steadfast in her faith. Perhaps that was what Thomas was like

So let’s explore more about St. Thomas. In order to understand his story correctly, we need to
know three pre-Easter things about Thomas:

1) He possessed enormous courage.

Thomas first steps onto the stage of biblical history in John 11. Lazarus has died in Bethany — a
suburb of Jerusalem. Jesus and the disciples are in the area of Jericho when they get the word.
When Jesus decides to go to Bethany, his disciples remind him that the last time he went near
Jerusalem, the leaders tried to stone him to death. It would be suicidal to go back. Jesus decides to
go anyway. But the disciples were unconvinced. At that point, Thomas speaks up and says, “Let
us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). It is a brief statement that reveals enormous

Thomas agreed that the Jewish leaders would probably kill Jesus if he went back to Jerusalem.
Events would soon prove him correct. But what can you say about a person who says, “If they kill
him, they’ll have to kill me too?”

There is love there, and loyalty, and despair, and sacrifice, and total commitment, and a clear
awareness and confrontation with injustice. Perhaps it may just be that Thomas was willing,
more than any other disciple to speak what was about to happen.

2) He did not accept easy answers.

John’s gospel mentions Thomas one other time before the crucifixion. It is late Thursday night in
the Upper Room. Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet and given them the great command to
love one another. Judas leaves the room to do his deed. The rest of the disciples crowd around their
Lord, knowing the end was not far away. To them — those loyal men who had stood with him in
his hour of trial — Jesus said,

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are
many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for
you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me
that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place I am going (John 14:1-4).
Thomas has been listening quietly, intently, carefully. All this talk of coming and going is too
much for him. It seems vague and mysterious.

In a moment of great honesty, he blurts out, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how
can we know the way?” (John 14:5). Those are the words of a totally honest person. The rest of
the disciples were just as perplexed, but only Thomas dared to speak out.
We all know people like that—if they don’t understand, they won’t let it pass. They keep asking
until it makes sense. That’s Thomas. Let others have a glib, easy faith that comes without reflection
and deep thought. Not Thomas. His was a faith won through the agony of personal struggle.

3) He was fully devoted to Jesus Christ.

He was with Jesus during all the tumult of the last few days of his life. He was with him in the
Triumphal Entry and he was with him when Jesus debated the Pharisees. He was with him in the
Upper Room and he was with him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The picture we have of Thomas on the eve of the crucifixion is this: He is a brave, intensely loyal
and deeply committed to Jesus. If need be, he is ready to lay down his own life.
He is no doubt inclined to look somewhat on the dark side of life. He is completely honest about
his doubts, confusion and fears. And he won’t be satisfied with second-hand answers.

How many of us after seeing who we believe to be the Messiah killed by unjust methods, illegal
trials and evidence, would have doubted just as Thomas had?

Wouldn’t we too have thought of giving up when all of our hopes were apparently dashed to pieces
when Jesus was humiliatingly crucified? Thomas must have been heartbroken, having all his
hopes crushed when Jesus died on the cross.

Thomas is not an unbelieving skeptic; he is a wounded believer.

Thomas stands for all time as the one who most desperately wants to believe if only he could be
sure. AND it takes some courage to face that. Thomas later is the apostle who travels to the Far
East to evangelize ( I had the opportunity to visit St. Thomas Basilica in Chanai, India). He is an
important saint in the region and a common Christian Indian name isThoma.

Doubt does have its uses. Deep doubt is often the prelude to an even deeper faith.
I love the way Frederick Buechner expresses it: “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They
keep it awake and moving” (from the book Wishful Thinking).

It is a wonderful truth that the greatest doubters can become the most steadfast believers. And the
honest doubts — once resolved — often become the bedrock of an unshakeable faith. It has been
said that no truth is so strongly believed as that which you once doubted.

The scripture goes on to say, blessed are those who have not seen, but yet believe. We are living
in a time (like always)—when there is so much to doubt, or at least there are many things which
we can understandably question: Who will we be coming out of this pandemic? Will we, how will
we achieve some movement forward in racial justice in this nation, this world? Where is God in
all of this?

So the questions for us to reflect on:
What do you most doubt? How might that influence your faith?

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